Once a Hot 100 powerhouse, putting four or five records on the chart with every episode, Glee has faded to the point where it can’t manage more than one from its season debut—and it’s not even “Call Me Maybe”. Otherwise, five bad records and one near great one from Ms. Jepsen herself, who will be around long after Glee disappears.
Juicy J featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz—“Bandz A Make Her Dance”
Slow grind stripper rap like they used to make, and after one listen you’ll understand why they stopped. This is a hit because Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz are on it (neither contributes anything worth noting) and because the beat is somewhat better than expected. It’s still boring and stupid. I can’t even tell you what 2 Chainz says, because by then I’ve stopped listening.
Lifehouse featuring Natasha Bedingfield—“Between the Raindrops”
Not to be sentimental about anything as nebulous as a pop career, but Natasha Bedingfield’s is as sad as they come. Her early singles held promise and were full of charm, but after daring to make a second album that her label didn’t know how to sell, she’s been delegated to limbo, where she finds herself doing guest spots for some of the world’s most mediocre bands. Every bit of sparkle and energy her voice once carried has disappeared. She sounds blank and anonymous. Which makes her a perfect fit for Lifehouse.
Carly Rae Jepsen—“This Kiss”
Following up “Call Me Maybe” is an impossible task, not only because the record itself was so great, but because its creation was so obviously based on instinct rather than the application of a carefully conceived pop formula (Jepsen didn’t even think of it as a single). But that instinct was based on what now looks to be a finely honed pop intelligence, because even if “This Kiss” isn’t as good as “Call Me Maybe”, it’s still one of the smartest and most promising pieces of pop to appear this year. The sound, which I assume was largely RedFoo’s idea, is perhaps too retro, like the Madonna of True Blue fronting a-ha. But there are also stunning production touches, such as the chopping up of the middle eight to heighten the sense of ethical and sexual uncertainty. And I’d be the last to complain of Jepsen channeling the Diana Ross-influenced side of Madonna’s vocals.
What matter’s most, though, is the way Jepsen experiments with words. Almost every line contains a surprise, and the way Jepsen presents the facts of the case through indirect reference makes the situation explicit but the emotions less so (“She’s a real sweet girl” she says of the woman she’s betraying, a line that outlines Jepsen’s ethical dilemma while at the same time diminishing her rival). She intentionally keeps thing mysterious. You’re not even sure who the aggressor is: there are lines that suggest it’s the man, but others that suggest she’s the one who’s been doing the chasing. The most ambiguous moment comes when Jepsen sings “You know I’ve got a boy,” pauses, and then continues with a sigh, “somewhere”. Has he been ignoring her? Has she been avoiding him? Did she intentionally lose him in the crowd? You could argue over the sexual politics of this song forever. Jepsen has single-handedly moved teen pop into the wider realm of adulthood without losing it’s energy, humor, or sense of wonder. She, and it, are here to stay.
Enrique Iglesias featuring Sammy Adams—“Finally Found You”
Can’t someone make Enrique Iglesias go away? His career has been one sodden sop to the current sound after another. On “Finally Found You” he toys with whimpy EDM and enlists the help of the callowest of all white rappers, Sammy Adams, to lend a few obscenities to the mix. In his own way Iglesias is even worse than his father, but for some reason radio continues to think he’s a star. He should long ago have been relegated to a lounge in Reno.
Glee Cast—“It’s Time”
Olly Murs featuring Chiddy Bang—“Heart Skips A Beat”
Yet another British X-Factor contestant trying to break in the states with the help of an American rapper willing to risk comparison to Travie McCoy. Because Murs is British his reggae is slightly more authentic than that of Bruno Mars, but everything else is factory issue. Which, love him or hate him, Mars never is.
Justin Moore—“Til My Last Day”
Since he’s quieter and his sound is more traditional, Moore is easier to tolerate than loudmouths like Brantley Gilbert and Jason Aldean. But in his own way he’s just as bad, and “Til My Last Day” may be even worse than his previous records. It isn’t as self-righteous as “Bait A Hook”, but it’s a lot duller, and the cliche level is almost as high.